National Student Orientation Group Elects UTEP Official to Board

By Daniel Perez

UTEP News Service

A knee injury in high school started a domino effect that led Jaime Mendez to a successful academic and professional career at UTEP and a director’s seat with a national organization that contributes to student achievement.

Mendez, director of The University of Texas at El Paso’s Student Support Services Program (SSSP), recently was elected to the 18-member Board of Directors of the National Orientation Directors Association (NODA). The Minneapolis-based group provides education, leadership and professional development in college student transition, retention and orientation.Jaime Mendez, second from left, director of UTEP’s Student Support Services Program, reviews Campus Transformation projects with his peer mentors and program participants. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News ServiceJaime Mendez, second from left, director of UTEP’s Student Support Services Program, reviews Campus Transformation projects with his peer mentors and program participants. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News Service

The El Paso native said he looked forward to learning from his national peers while at the same time sharing many of the initiatives that make UTEP an active partner in the education process, especially initiatives for those involved in SSSP – first-generation college students from low-income backgrounds.

Mendez, an active NODA member since the University hired him in 2001, is UTEP’s first representative on the board in the 37-year history of the association, which has about 1,000 members. He was elected to a three-year term.

“This is going to be a big learning experience,” said the UTEP alumnus who earned a bachelor’s in psychology in 1997 and a master’s in theater nine years later. “There are a lot of things that people don’t know about UTEP and our initiatives. I can be the voice of what we’re about and where we plan to go.”

Mendez said his involvement in NODA and SSSP allow him to give back to the University and its students, who remind him of himself 25 years ago when he was a UTEP freshman. The former Junior ROTC cadet intended to make the military his career, but his plans changed after he “blew out” his right knee as a high school senior. He enrolled at the University not knowing what to expect or what was expected of him.

After a brief adjustment period during which he admitted to feeling “lost,” his leadership instincts kicked in and he began to seek opportunities to engage in college life. For example, he helped start the UTEP chapter of Omega Delta Phi, a multicultural social and service fraternity. More importantly for his development, he worked with a lot of students who, like him, were first generation college students from humble backgrounds.

After earning his bachelor’s degree, he embarked on a brief but successful stint in the private sector, but returned to UTEP as assistant director of Student Success Programs. He stayed involved in student leadership and new student orientation programs for the next 12 years.

Danielle Bristow, director of First Year Center Programs at Washington University in St. Louis, and former NODA vice president for internal relations and membership, has known Mendez for seven years. She lauded his dedication to students, student leader development, and mentorship of students who present educational content at NODA conferences.

“Jaime is a team player and always steps up to help in any way that he can to further the association and the programs and events it offers,” she said.

Gary Edens, Ed.D., vice president for student affairs, praised Mendez for his work ethic and passion to serve students. Edens said the SSSP director’s inclusion on NODA’s national board will bring great attention to UTEP and showcase the talent that works at the University. 

“NODA’s strong reputation for promoting student engagement and leadership is a perfect match with Mendez’s skill set and talents,” Edens said. “(Mendez) cares deeply about providing an environment where students feel welcomed and connected to UTEP. Most impressive is his dedication to being a role model and the stress he places on providing opportunities for students to become engaged on campus.” 

Looking for new and different challenges, Mendez became SSSP director earlier this year. SSSP is one of the outreach initiatives led by Armando Aguirre, Ed.D., assistant provost and director of the El Paso Collaborative for Academic Excellence.

The program provides academic and personal support for up to 200 low-income, first-generation college students who attend UTEP. The staff includes a counselor who can help with personal and financial issues, an instructor who can help with academic needs, and eight upper-division students who act as mentors. Mendez said he and his staff do what they can to help even the students who do not qualify for the program. The goal is to help them finish their degree.

“That was me,” he said referring to the students helped through SSSP. “This is my way of giving back.”